Refundable Deposits on Beverage Containers

Local and National Policymakers, Local Businesses

Courtesy: Robert Young (Flickr)
Courtesy: Robert Young (Flickr)

A container deposit law requires a minimum refundable deposit on beer, water, sports drink, soft drink, juice and other beverage containers in order to ensure a high rate of recycling or reuse. Today, ten US states, eight Canadian provinces and many countries worldwide have a deposit law requiring refundable deposits on certain beverage containers. The deposit provides a financial incentive for greater reuse and recycling of beverage containers. Indeed, pubs in Ireland already get a deposit back from drinks distributors for empty reusable bottles that they send back to be cleaned and refilled. A similar system should be set up in Ireland to allow anyone to get a deposit for returning empty beverage containers for reuse or recycling.

How it works is simple. When a retailer buys beverages from a distributor, a deposit is paid to the distributor for each can or bottle purchased. The consumer pays the deposit to the retailer when buying the beverage. When the consumer returns the empty beverage container to the retail store, to a redemption centre, or to a special vending machine, the deposit is refunded. The retailer recoups the deposit from the distributor, plus an additional handling fee. The handling fee helps cover the cost of handling the containers.

Such systems would apply to many materials (glass, plastic, etc.) and would cover refillable containers and containers that can be recycled. Refillable bottles should be given priority as the advantage of these bottles is they are refilled 40 to 50 times, and are therefore more environmentally friendly than single-use bottles.

The experience of other countries where a deposit system is in operation shows that not all of the deposits are claimed. These unclaimed or unredeemed deposits can be significant and can amount to millions of euro per year. All unclaimed deposits should be passed onto the state and should be used to fund recycling and other environmental programs.

There are many advantages to a refundable deposit system including: reduced levels of litter; increased recycling and waste reduction; local job creation; and greater environmental sustainability.
Endurvinnslan hf., Iceland
New York Bottle Bill Resource Guide